Conversion Rumor Leads to Violence Outside Church in Egypt

A mob of Muslims carrying makeshift bombs clashed with police outside a church in southern Egypt on Friday over a rumor that a Muslim woman who disappeared had been kidnapped by Christians to force her to convert.

Clashes occurred around the Mar Girgis Church in the town of Kom Ombo near the southern city of Aswan, around 620 miles from Cairo, on Thursday evening and continued until Friday, according to Egypt Independent.

More than 20 riot police trucks had been deployed even as the rioters threw rocks at officers who returned fire with tear gas, according to state news agency MENA. At least 11 police officials were injured, and three cars were damaged, including an armored police vehicle.

Police arrested four rioters and seized Molotov cocktails or makeshift bombs.

The violence started when a 36-year-old teacher, identified by Reuters as Sahar Touni, disappeared four days ago, and local residents blamed the church for it, Security Chief Hassan Abdel Hay was quoted as saying. They accused Christians of kidnapping the woman to force her to convert. Police have formed a team to search for the woman.

Megla'a Habib, a church spokesperson, said the teacher was friends with a Christian teacher at the school, which led to speculation that she went missing because of her forced conversion.

The teacher's family has warned security forces that if she is not found within seven days, they would storm the church.

Egypt's Coptic Christians, who account for at least 10 percent of the total population of 82 million, have faced numerous attacks after the ouster of President Mubarak about two years ago. Mubarak, an authoritarian leader, kept Islamists under tight control.

On Feb. 15, Muslim villagers attacked a church in Fayoum Province, beating four priests and burning parts of the building. Even as police looked on, the attack went on for hours. Violence resumed the following day, when police detained some of the attackers.

In a separate incident, two underage Coptic Christian boys were recently accused of blasphemy in the city of Beni Suef, after an alleged witness said the two were playing in rubbish that he claimed had pages of the Quran.

The current president, Mohamed Morsi, is from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamist-backed constitution that Egyptian voters approved through a controversial referendum last year establishes Islamist supremacy and has caused concerns over the lack of full religious freedom in the Sunni Muslim-majority country.

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